The 2017 Chicago European Union Film Festival – Part 6

Every year in the month of March, the Gene Siskel Film Center hosts the Chicago European Union Film Festival. I’ll give capsule reviews of as many of the films as I can. All films are shown at the Film Center, 164 N. State Street, right across State St. from the Chicago Theater. See you there!

Part 3. Part 4. Part 5.

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François Cluzet and Marianne Denicourt in “The Country Doctor.” credit: hallu-cine.net

The writer and film director Thomas Lilti is also a practicing doctor, a G.P., and he brings an authentic personal touch to his films. 2014’s Hippocrates was a fictionalized glimpse at his own internship experiences at a busy urban hospital, and was refreshingly contrivance-free. His most recent (third) feature is The Country Doctor (Médecin De Campagne) (France 2016), another admirably straightforward procedural concerning Dr. Jean-Pierre Werner (veteran François Cluzet), who has been driving to house calls and running his small provincial clinic, every day, for quite a few years. Recently diagnosed with a cancerous tumor, he’s advised by his doctor, Norès (Christophe Odent) to take it easier and perhaps get some help while receiving treatments, but, of course, he just throws himself into his work harder. When Dr. Nathalie Delezia (Marianne Denicourt), a comparatively inexperienced practitioner, appears to lighten his workload (at Norès behest), Jean-Pierre is accommodating but stern, begrudgingly content to let her learn things the hard way.

Between Dr. Werner and his relationship with his many patients, Dr. Werner and his new partnership with Dr. Delezia, and Dr. Werner and his own treatments with Norès, most directors would just plow through with TV plotting, arranging events with efficiency and expediency. But Lilti (with Baya Kasmi) has really crafted the screenplay to cover all of it: a lot happens over 99 minutes of screentime, but he refuses to short-change all of those small, character-revealing interactions and details that make it all resonate. Cluzet, Denicourt and the other actors are given room to stretch, and they’re all agile enough to make the most of what Lilti’s given them. Cinematographer Nicolas Gaurin does very nice, seamless work here as well, but there’s a strong hand on all of it. Love to watch pros work? Me, too. You’ll like this film, and I recommend it.

“The Country Doctor” will be shown on Friday, March 17th at 2:00 pm and Wednesday the 22nd at 6:00 pm.

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Cédric Kahn and Bérénice Bejo in “After Love.” credit: cinematographe.it

The French title of Belgian director Joachim Lafosse’s new film, After Love (Belgium, 2016) is L’Économie Du Couple, which gives a clearer idea of the self-imposed objectivity with which the unhappy couple here view themselves. Marie (Bérénice Bejo) and Boris (Cédric Kahn) have loved each other for a while, but there’s little of it left when we join them at the film’s beginning. Marie is from a fairly well-off family, but has worked steadily as well and is the primary earner. Boris has always been a journeyman carpenter and builder, and Marie didn’t mind picking up some of the slack while they raised their twin daughters, Jade and Margaux. But now things are souring quickly; she’d like to separate, but he can’t afford to leave until the flat they live in has been sold. Boris wants half of those proceeds – his renovations increased the value of the home, and their profit, even if Marie covered a larger part of the mortgage payments. This practical dichotomy – does her possession represent more value than the product of his work? – is where their arguments inevitably return, where their emotions inevitably divert; in the meantime,  they chip away at each other passive-aggressively, playing their friends and families off of each other and competing for the affections of their two (admirably resilient) girls. At times the constant friction can be oppressive, but Lafosse gives us a peek or two at the vestiges of passion that they initially brought to each other, and their mutual love for the kids is clear. The film’s no ray of sunshine, but its pleasures are in the detailed accuracy of Lafosse’s script (co-written with Fanny Burdino, Mazarine Pingeot and Thomas van Zuylen) and the involving performances of Bejo and Kahn. Practically the entire film happens in that apartment, but Lafosse and regular cinematographer Jean-François Hensgens find lots of visual variety there without easing up on a certain necessary claustrophobia. These fairly intense family problem-dramas can be tough, but some real authenticity and empathy has been brought to the work here, and I liked this film a lot.

“After Love” screens Friday, March 17th at 6:00 pm and Monday the 20th at 6:00 pm.

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Josef Hader and Aenne Schwarz in “Stefan Zweig: Farewell To Europe.” credit: dor-film.com

I’d certainly like to be more familiar with the work of Stefan Zweig, the Austrian writer who inspired, among other things, much of Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel. He was one of the most widely read European authors of the 20th century, but his many detractors found his work glibly lightweight. Ah, the blessing and curse of popular tastes…   Fearful of the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s, Zweig left his homeland for New York and South America. But Zweig made a practical point to never denounce Nazi Germany in public, much to the dismay of his fellow Jews in the world of arts and letters.  He nonetheless worked hard to help others escape Europe when he could, even as he grew to love his new home in Brazil. But eventually his, and his wife’s, despair over the state of Europe led to a tragic end.

I’d certainly like to be more familiar with the work of Maria Schrader; a really good German actress who works pretty consistently, she has also directed two other feature films besides today’s Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe (Austria/Germany, 2016), and the other two are reportedly excellent as well. Collaborating with Jan Schomburg, her screenplay depicts six illustrative episodes in Zweig’s life, rather than following a rote chronology of strung-along events. It’s not a particularly novel approach, but it’s much harder to pull off, and Schrader’s film executes it superbly. An elaborate formal banquet, a politically-charged writer’s conference, a sugar-cane plantation, a New York apartment, a rural outdoor reception – Schrader’s command of the environments (Wolfgang Thaler’s camerawork is impressive), the characters and events within them and the larger meanings of each episode is unerring. She’s ably assisted by Josef Hader’s spot-on portrayal of the ferociously intellectual yet unfailingly gracious Zweig, as well as Aenne Schwarz as Zweig’s second wife Lotte and a consistently-led supporting cast. Another terrific film, and one of my favorites of the fest (with Slack Bay).

“Stefan Zweig: Farewell To Europe” will be shown on Friday, March 17th at 8:00 pm and Saturday, March 18th at 4:00 pm.

On Friday, director Maria Schrader, and tentatively actress Barbara Sukowa, will be present via Skype in an audience discussion moderated by Sara Hall, Associate Professor of Germanic Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago.

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